• 3:10 to Yuma: The Most Spectacular Clunker in the History of the Western

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    Sophia Loren
    once said of her face that all the individual components are wrong,
    but they fit together well. In contrast, the individual parts of
    3:10 to Yuma are simply magnificent, but the overall effect
    is Zasu Pitts.

    The cinematography
    is flawless. The acting is equally flawless. The interaction between
    Russell Crowe and Christian Bale is reminiscent of the interaction
    between Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in the diner scene in Heat,
    or between Tom Hulce and F. Murray Abraham in the deathbed scene
    in Amadeus.
    But the two of them sustain the repartee through the entire movie.

    The dialog
    is clever and crisp. The writers neglected only one thing: plausibility.
    Every scene stands on its own merits, and each is arguably more
    implausible than the last. In this sense, 3:10 to Yuma may
    become a screenwriter’s classic, moving from scene to scene like
    an accelerating tidal wave of implausibility. The ending is without
    a doubt the most implausible I ever recall in any film, ever, western
    or not — a veritable crescendo of “What was that all about?”

    The credits
    of 3:10 to Yuma should have closed with a dedication to the
    memory of the writer-director who was clearly the spiritual godfather
    of this movie: Ed Wood.

    This is a large-screen
    movie, as most Technicolor westerns are. Don’t wait for this to
    be released on DVD. Let them have their $8.50. You have to see this
    thing in its wide-screen magnificence in order to appreciate the
    grandeur of its utter implausibility.

    I am now going
    to review the entire plot and highlight the memorable scenes in
    this incomparable monstrosity. My review will not ruin the movie
    for you. The movie will do that on its own, with no help from me.
    My review will merely help you to savor 3:10 to Yuma as you
    see it. When you start giggling uncontrollably in the theater, you
    will demonstrate your firm grasp of what this film’s triumph really
    is. Scene by disjointed scene, you will appreciate what is likely
    to become a legend among script writers.

    The movie begins
    at night in a ranch house. The owner hears noises outside. He gets
    up. Then he falls down. This is explained later: he has a wooden
    leg, as the movie never lets us forget. He lost his leg in the Civil
    War. This wooden leg has little to do with the plot line, or the
    film’s outcome, or anything else, with one exception: as you hear
    him clunk across the room and then see him fall flat, this becomes
    a metaphor for the entire film. The director is a master of subtlety.

    Outside, people
    are setting fire to his barn. One barn-burner shouts that they will
    be back the next week to burn down his house. Bale knows who the
    barn-burner is. There is a witness: his teenage son. So, will he
    go to the sheriff? Of course not.

    The man who
    ordered the burning is the man he owes the mortgage to. He is a
    little behind in his payments. This high-risk, low-output, peg-leg
    rancher is apparently a metaphor for today’s subprime mortgage market.
    What timing! The director is also a marketing genius.

    The mortgage-holder
    has somehow cut off the flowing water to the little ranch. We are
    not told how. Diverting water flow through your property without
    reasonable use was illegal under riparian rights law in the old
    West, but let’s ignore this. The ranch will be his in a week. The
    director missed a trick by not giving the guy a handlebar moustache.
    As I say, he is quite subtle.

    What do you
    suppose the villain plans to do with this unproductive ranch? If
    you are a western movie buff, you know. Sell it to the railroad!
    All right! Good start for a low-budget B-western, which this plot
    line reveals so far, except for one thing: there was no reason to
    have his men burn down the barn, which would have landed them all
    in jail. He had not yet legally foreclosed.

    This villain
    then disappears from the film. This actor was one of the lucky ones.

    Meanwhile,
    completely independently, Russell Crowe is planning a robbery of
    the railroad’s pay wagon. OK! Great stuff, except that the pay wagon
    has a Gatling gun on it. It is defended by Pinkerton agents. It
    is like a rolling iron fortress.

    On board, riding
    shotgun — sawed off, so it would not reliably hit anything farther
    away than 50 feet — is Peter Fonda. An old Peter Fonda. A Peter
    Fonda who looks my age. Grim.

    In preparation
    for the robbery, Crowe is sketching a bird. He is an artist, we
    see, a real Renaissance man. As we learn later, he quotes the Bible,
    especially Proverbs, based on his having read the entire Bible in
    three days at age eight. Some memory! He is like Robby Benson in
    The Chosen, except that he is a gentile and a mass murderer
    and can act.

    The gang attacks
    the pay wagon. The guys in the wagon shoot a bunch of them. But
    this, it turns out, is only the first half of the gang. This gang
    is so large that it would not have remained inconspicuous in the
    scene of Pickett’s charge in Gettysburg.
    Pickett might even have won, had this gang been in his division.

    Crowe then
    releases a herd of cattle in front of the wagon, which overturns.

    Where did he
    get the cattle?

    We find out
    only after the gang shoots all the wagon’s defenders, killing all
    but the most despicable, a bounty hunter: Fonda. These are Bale’s
    cattle. He and his two sons went looking for them and found the
    gang instead, just as they gunned down everyone. He asks for them
    back. Crowe complies.

    Does Crowe
    shoot them as witnesses to murder? Of course not.

    So, in one
    night, this poor guy had his barn burned down by one gang and his
    cattle stolen by another. But he never mentioned to his wife, “Hey,
    what happened to all our cattle? I’d better go looking for them.”

    Plausible so
    far?

    His 14-year-old
    son is a potty-mouth, pushy kid who is verbally contemptuous of
    his father, and refuses to obey him. In other words, he is a thoroughly
    modern kid in an 1878 setting. The script writers eventually turn
    the kid into a hero precisely because he will not obey, which his
    father eventually sees as the basis of his transition to adulthood.

    The gang takes
    the money from the strongbox and rides straight into town, where
    the sheriff is waiting for the wagon. So far, there is no trace
    of a railroad line.

    The gang’s
    second-in-command then tricks the sheriff, telling him about the
    overturned wagon and the bodies. The sheriff rides off with about
    half a dozen men. The gang then goes to a bar for a few drinks.

    The bartender
    is a woman, and let me tell you, if the wild West had ever had women
    who looked like she does, it would have been a whole lot wilder.

    The gang is
    legitimately worried about the return of the sheriff. They leave
    to head south of the border in nearby Mexico. But not Crowe. Oh,
    no. He takes the bartender upstairs. Afterward, he doesn’t even
    offer her a cigarette. Instead, he sketches her naked backside.

    Crowe then
    goes downstairs. He meets Bale. They chat. Bale asks for payment
    for two of his cattle, which had died. Crowe pays him a few dollars.
    Then the recently and silently returned sheriff and his posse surprise
    him from behind and arrest him.

    Plausible so
    far?

    The visiting
    railroad official then tries to hire a posse to take Crowe to a
    distant town where the railroad will then take Crowe to Yuma, where
    the territorial prison is. No one wants to go. Why, it’s High
    Noon
    ! Oops; it isn’t. The sheriff will not go, either. It
    is not clear exactly why — possibly to get off-screen as fast
    as possible.

    The railroad
    man then promises to pay Bale $200 if he delivers Crowe to the distant
    depot. Nobody else wants the job except the guy who burned down
    Bale’s barn. He was one of the hirelings of the guy Bale owes the
    money to. “It’s my job,” he explained.

    Why hire Bale?
    Because Bale is a crack rifle shot. Everyone says so. He says so.
    So, he takes his rifle with him.

    Only once in
    the film does he actually shoot anything of significance with his
    rifle. Like the movie’s writers, desperately aiming at a story line,
    he fires off a few rounds, but he never hits much.

    The railroad
    man does not telegraph the prison to tell them to have two
    Gatling guns on the train this time, along with a platoon of troops.
    No, sir. He just gathers the small group together, and off they
    ride to the train depot, by way of Bale’s home, where Bale leaves
    his wife alone in the dining room for several minutes to chat with
    Crowe, who talks to her about a beautiful woman with green eyes.
    That’s what he told the bartender, too. It seems that Crowe is obsessed
    by good-looking women with green eyes. He never finds one. Green
    eyes are possibly a metaphor — for what, I am not sure.

    Bale rides
    off with the little posse, but not before telling his potty-mouth
    son to stay behind. This is like telling Crowe to forget about green-eyed
    women.

    In the little
    group is Fonda, who was shot in the belly by Crowe that afternoon
    but was allowed to live to settle old scores, although I am not
    sure exactly how this accomplished the goal. He has just endured
    an operation by the local veterinarian, who had dug a hole in his
    stomach the size of one of Dr. House’s operations, to extract the
    bullet. He then gets on his horse and rides off with the posse —
    no blood, no pain, no mention of the fact that five or so hours
    earlier he was lying in the dirt with lead in his belly. This is
    the best role Fonda has ever had. “Hi. I’m Peter, and I’m a recovering
    gut-shot victim.” “Hi, Peter!”

    He is a Bible-reading
    mass murderer, a Christian who loves Jesus. The Hollywood script
    writers know who the real bad guys are, as usual: Jesus-loving murderers
    of women and small children.

    Meanwhile the
    gang doubles back to find Crowe. They go in search of the little
    group. The gang can be seen in the distance. Will anyone in the
    group say, “Who are those guys?” Sadly, no. This time the
    Hole in the Wall Gang is tracking the law. As in Butch
    Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
    , the trackers have an Indian
    in the group. It is not clear if he does the tracking.

    Then Crowe
    and Fonda start chatting about what constitutes legitimate murder.
    It’s all a matter of your perspective, they conclude. This is high-level
    existentialist stuff, no doubt.

    Crowe then
    jumps Fonda, horse to horse, tosses him over a convenient cliff,
    which the camera had previously missed, grabs his rifle, and tells
    the little posse to drop their guns, which they do. But then, out
    of nowhere — I mean nowhere — the potty-mouth son appears right
    behind Crowe and gets the drop on him. The tables are turned!

    They must outrun
    Crowe’s gang. Fortunately, Bale knows a shortcut to the depot town.
    It goes through Apache territory. These are Apaches who never surrendered
    to the U.S. Army. Crowe warns against this, but Bale insists.

    Later, three
    Apaches shoot at them in the night. Crowe gets a gun from the guy
    he has just knifed to death (actually, Crowe used a fork, but what
    is the correct verb?) — the big-mouth who burned down Bale’s
    barn — and sneaks off to kill all three. Here is the scene:
    a white, artistic, Bible-quoting, murderous bank robber sneaks up
    on three Apaches by starting out in plain sight — or sites
    — from right in front of them, maybe 50 yards away. He is successful.
    We are not shown exactly how he did this, but three Apaches, who
    the U.S. Army could not defeat, are sent to the great pow-wow in
    the sky.

    Plausible so
    far?

    Fortunately,
    no more Apaches show up. Crowe escapes in the night. He steals the
    posse’s horses. But then he leaves them tied up a few miles down
    the trail. He is heading for the depot town, where he will meet
    his gang.

    He rides into
    a railroad construction camp. This isn’t where the depot is. Why
    the railroad is being built here, close to Apache country, we are
    not told. The sheriff of the camp spots Crowe, who it seems killed
    the sheriff’s brother years ago. He arrests him and then tortures
    him.

    At this point,
    the posse rides in. They see that Crowe is being tortured. They
    tell the torturers this is immoral, which fails to impress. It’s
    all a matter of perspective, I guess. Then they spring him. They
    all make a break for it by going through a nearby tunnel —
    presumably a new one in front of them, not the one behind them they
    came through on their way to the depot town.

    Bale, the kid,
    the railroad man, and Crowe wind up at the depot town, but they
    do not go to the depot. Of course not. They check in for a couple
    of hours at a hotel. They stay in the only available room, the bridal
    suite. This is a metaphor for . . . I give up.

    Bale allows
    Crowe to walk around the room at will. Seeing what had happened
    to Fonda apparently has not registered with him. He sends his son
    to keep a lookout for the gang, which had avoided the Apache shortcut.
    Then the railroad man goes off to find the sheriff.

    The local sheriff
    then shows up. He has a few deputies. The son then shows up. He
    has spotted the gang. This is maybe an hour after the little group
    arrived in town. Some shortcut!

    “How many of
    them?” asks the sheriff. “Seven or eight,” the kid says. It turns
    out to be seven.

    Bale gets the
    railroad man to promise to pay the kid $1,000 if the kid goes home
    immediately. He agrees. Bale then sends the kid home. The kid promises
    to go home and leaves. Bale is a very, very slow learner.

    The gang rides
    in and announces on Main Street that they will pay anyone $200 for
    shooting the sheriff or one of his deputies. Money talks! The whole
    town runs off to get guns.

    High Noon
    was never like this!

    The sheriff,
    his deputies, and the railroad man see that they are outgunned.
    They surrender. As soon as they lay down their guns, the gang shoots
    them down, saving the $200-per-victim bounty. The private contractors
    in town are out of luck. I am not sure if this is a metaphoric statement
    against Halliburton or not.

    Bale now has
    to get Crowe from the hotel to the train station, as if the train
    actually means something, as if his gang could not kill any lawmen
    on the train with no trouble at all and release Crowe. But how can
    he get Crowe to the station and not get killed?

    There is one
    way, a way that might conceivably work: the George Jackson way.
    With your right hand, you stick a cocked revolver under Crowe’s
    chinny-chin-chin. With your left hand, you press forward on the
    back of Crowe’s head. Then you yell to the gang, “Shoot me, and
    I will pull the trigger as my final automatic reaction. Your boss
    will die.” Then you pray like mad that the pathological, fast-draw
    maniac who is the number-two gang member doesn’t want to become
    number-one. You march Crowe to the train station.

    But no. Bale
    persuades Crowe to make a run for it to the station, which Crowe
    does without an argument, even though Bale has shown repeatedly
    that he will not shoot Crowe, since he has to get him loaded onto
    the train.

    They run for
    it. For a peg-legged man, Bale can really run. He leaps across rooftops.

    The gang starts
    shooting at Bale. Then Bale starts shooting his pistol — no
    rifle is anywhere to be seen. Gang members start falling like ten
    pins. One. Two. Three. More. I lost count. Are these supposed
    to be townspeople, still hoping for $200? After they have seen the
    entire police department gunned down? They want to submit a bill
    to these guys?

    It’s 1950,
    and I’m watching Hopalong Cassidy (1942) on TV, and the six
    guns roar: one, two . . . eight, nine . . . fifteen, sixteen. .
    . . OK! I love B-westerns! And this movie is the B-western of all
    B-westerns, script-wise.

    The surviving
    gang members finally shoot Bale. He falls. So, Crowe gets a gun
    and shoots the last four members of his gang, including the maniac.

    Plausible so
    far?

    The kid reappears,
    pistol in hand, and threatens to kill Crowe, but doesn’t, kneels
    down, says goodbye to his father, who is lying on the ground next
    to the train, which was late (this, I can believe).

    Crowe then
    climbs onto the train. He leaves behind the saddlebags filled with
    money, apparently for the townspeople to divvy up after all.

    Is this evidence of some form of redemption? There has been no
    verbal communication of any change on Crowe’s part. There was no
    visible cause. Artistically, this is utterly incoherent if this
    movie is about a bad man going good.

    The train heads off to Yuma. Crowe whistles for his horse. The
    horse hears, and races off next to the train. The train and the
    horse disappear, screen-right.

    Fade to black.

    Credits roll.

    As I said earlier,
    I did not see, This movie is dedicated to the memory of Ed Wood.

    Ed was cheated.

    So was Elmore
    Leonard, who wrote the original story. Whatever they paid him for
    the rights to this ghastly re-make, it wasn’t enough.

    This
    movie may turn out to be a huge commercial success — something
    done magnificently that should not have been done at all.

    Buster Crabbe
    and Fuzzy St. John, where are you now, when we need you?

    September
    15, 2007

    Gary
    North [send him mail]
    is the author of Mises
    on Money
    . Visit http://www.garynorth.com.
    He is also the author of a free 19-volume series, An
    Economic Commentary on the Bible
    .

    Gary
    North Archives

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